Saturday, December 18, 2010
Ella. Our Goodbye
It's now 27 months since I gave birth to our precious daughter Ella. She was stillborn at 26 weeks old weighing 840 grams. As I sit in the warmth of a centrally heated home in the UK (the country is on lock down as the big Christmas freeze hits) I'm able to bring to the front of my mind the days, the weeks and the months that played out after Ella's tiny spirit departed this life and flew towards the next.
I've also come to realise that with the passing of time the edges of our memories soften. Light now plays on the memories held in the corners of my dreams and they appear out of focus, as if slightly blurred. The confused conversations, often raised to screams, and the choking sobs as we struggled to cope in the aftermath of Ella's death are now a whisper. But just like a scar they're a reminder of the love Chris and I lost that night, as well as the love we gained.
Ella was born in hospital on the night of Thursday 4th September 2008. The following day as we sat in our small room on the ward trying to come to terms with what had happened hospital staff came to offer their condolences - nurses who were with us the night before and had watched the events unfold and Jill, the midwife who hadn't been able to stay with us after 9pm because of a shift change, held me the hardest.
I was in shock, but able to manage a polite conversation with the cleaning lady. Chris got me to drink gallons of hot sweet tea and spent hours stroking my hand. The catheter that had been inserted after the operation was finally removed and I was encouraged to use the toilet - two nurses held me up as I passed bloody urine into what can only be described as a large grey cardboard box. To have been able to go to the toilet was the green light to go home - it didn't seem to matter that I couldn't walk unaided.
Before we left the ward the hospital minister arrived and spoke with Chris. She wanted to know if we'd thought about the type of service we wished to have for Ella. To this day that moment still haunts me. We had no idea about what to do, let alone when or where a service should be held. We had barely been able to speak of Ella's death let alone the huge task of thinking about what to do with our daughter's fragile body. Chris thanked her and took the paperwork saying he would be in touch. She advised us not to leave it too long.
We had said goodbye to Ella the previous night (Ella. Her Story) and Ali G, our midwife, had taken her tiny body to the hospital morgue. She said she would lay her close to the elderly folk whose souls would keep her safe. But as we got ready to leave the hospital it suddenly hit us we were leaving our daughter behind. It was heart wrenching, as parents, to realise we wouldn't be taking her home with us. We'd arrived with our daughter, but were leaving without her. In despair Chris pushed me in a wheelchair down to reception where I was given a letter that listed a hospital summary of the last 24 hours. I noticed at the end of the page = Discharged from Orwell Ward (and in capital letters) WITHOUT BABY. My hands shook.
The days following our loss were experienced through a blur of empty tears, deep anguish, searing pain, huge hugs, careful words and mugs of tea. I didn't wash my hair for days and my showers were brief. Due to the stitches I wasn't comfortable climbing the narrow spiral staircase at my parents house so we camped on mattresses in their newly finished sun room and watched through the windows as days turned into night and darkness fell. The world continued to turn, we barely noticed.
We received beautiful cards full of beautiful words. Emails arrived, texts flashed on our phones and bouquets of gorgeous flowers were sent from friends at home and overseas. We were overwhelmed with grief, support, love and friendship. The tenderness from our family and friends (near and far) will always be recognised during that time as life giving. It was the start of the healing process, although we weren't to know it.
Chris gave the semblance that he was manging - he was incredible at holding it together. He took phone calls and made the necessary arrangements we'd decided for Ella's cremation. After the weekend he quietly organised her death certificate and re-visited the hospital making sure her papers were in order and doing everything he could to shield me from any further sadness. He was advised that the earliest we could have a service for Ella was Thursday 18th September 2008 at 9am. We were relieved a date was available so we took it.
Quite suddenly a week later on Thursday 11th September I was rushed into hospital with horrendous stomach pain. I lay in the fetal position as a doctor examined me - everywhere was painful, it felt like returning contractions and I had a temperature. It was recognised that I had an infection, possibly from the surgery I received the night of Ella's birth, and it was burning through me like an inferno. I remained in hospital for 5 days until Monday 15th. Chris visited me daily bringing sandwiches and small snippets of stories from home.
I was heartbroken, frightened and painfully miserable. To top it off I was badly constipated and when able to sleep it was fitful. They hooked me to an IV drip that pumped strong anti-biotics through a cannula into the back of my right hand. My stomach was scanned so they could check for any cause of infection, but none was confirmed. I was allowed home for lunch on Sunday 14th where my family gathered and I met my niece Grace for the first time. She was gorgeous. Chris later drove me back to hospital where I lay in discomfort before asking for as many suppositories as possible. I spent all night on the toilet and the relief was immense!
I was eventually discharged at 4pm the next day. My right hand was black and blue from a collapsed vein but the thought of being able to attend Ella's service gave me the courage to pack and dress, I couldn't bear to be in that room a moment longer. My sister collected me as Chris was in London seeing his family and I remember her saying something that made me laugh. At that moment one of the nurses passing the door told me how much better I was looking compared to when I had arrived. Thank god, five days before I had simply wanted to curl up and die.
Thursday 18th September 2008 a small group of us gathered at the Crematorium in Ipswich - a large and dark looking place. Thankfully the sun shone and we felt ok as we walked the manicured gardens. Chris and I held hands, we had asked for a poem to be read and my mum had put together a small posy of flowers made up from the ones that friends had sent. At 9am we sat at the front of the room taking up just two pews. Ella's delicate white coffin was carried down the aisle high on shoulders and placed in front of a heavy curtain with the posy on top. As I sat tall a single tear dropped onto my cheek. A prayer was said and a reading read. It was a simple service that allowed us to say our goodbyes, but as the curtain closed around her tiny coffin our hearts broke.
Much later that afternoon Chris and I drove to a wide open field that backs onto a great forest and farm land. Amongst the stubble of corn there is an area made up of acres of turf which is used on golf courses and in gardens. It was here that we removed our shoes and lay on the soft grass, arms outstretched above our heads as we watched the clouds gently float across the sky.
Ella was there, we knew it. Our baby was finally free.